Healthcare, West Virginia Legislature

House bill to allow for more birthing centers across state meets GOP opposition on House floor

MORGANTOWN – A House Republican bill to help more birthing centers spring up across the state drew significant Republican opposition on the House floor on Tuesday. Three other bills sailed through more smoothly, passing unanimously.

HB 2789 is the birthing center bill. It aims to exempt birthing centers from the Certificate of Need (CON) process. The CON process is overseen by the state Health Care Authority, which says it is designed to contain healthcare costs and avoid duplication of services. New health care facilities are subject to CON.

Health Committee vice-chair Heather Tully, R-Nichola, said the CON process is not needed here because birthing centers regulated under the state Office of Health Facility Licensure and Certification.

Right now, there is only one in the state, in Charleston, she said. The CON process is long and expensive, and we learned from the pandemic quarantines that women may need other options. Birthing centers can provide a full range of prenatal and post-natal (up to 28 days) care. And new centers could allow physicians and nurse midwives opportunities to work at them.

“Really what we’re doing is allowing competition to flourish and really allowing options for patients,” she said.

Delegate John Paul Hott, R-Grant, was the first to stand against the bill, listing several reasons.

West Virginia has a declining population, he said, which will make it a challenge to open more centers. And West Virginia has, statistically, the nation’s worst birthing outcomes, including infant deaths, drug-addicted mothers and pre-term births. “More centers won’t solve the problem.”

More centers will also cut into the business of already financially strapped hospitals, he said, making it more difficult for them to survive. He also fears liability and staff quality issues. What’s needed is better education, preventative medicine and youth social support.

Delegate Danielle Walker. D-Monongalia, said she’s had several difficult births. Birthing centers are for healthy pregnancies and the centers won’t have the high-level care. The bill also won’t address the need for more ob-gyns in rural communities. And while urban hospitals may exercise veto power over potential close competitors – a topic raised by proponents – rural centers won’t have to wrestle with that so there’s no need to take away the process.

Several proponents noted that birthing centers are staffed with trained nurse-midwives and ob-gyns who know how to get their patients to appropriate care if needed.

Lead sponsor Kathie Hess Crouse, R-Putnam, was among those who spoke of the the state’s rural nature and the long distance to hospitals for many patients. The access issue will become more acute as more women, who would have chosen abortions, will be required to give birth under the new abortion law.

“We need to give women choices and we need to have more access available,” she said.

Delegate Buck Jennings, R-Preston, worked as an EMT and talked about the long ambulance rides women in labor have to endure if they live in remote areas. It’s better to be 15 minutes from a birthing center than 75 minutes from a hospital.

Health chair Amy Summers, R-Taylor, said she worked as a neonatal ICU nurse, has seen all sorts of complications and would personally not choose a birthing center. “But moms have a right to choose where they want to have their babies.”

Right now, their only choices are hospital and home, and under COVID home births increased significantly. “Our people deserve this freedom and I think we ought to give it to them.”

The vote was 73-26, with the nay votes coming from 22 Republicans and four Democrats, including Walker and Evan Hansen, also D-Monongalia. The bill goes to the Senate.

Other bills

SB 4 creates an Adopt-A-Trail volunteer program, under Division of Natural Resources jurisdiction, for trail maintenance and enhancement. The vote was 99-0 and it heads to the governor.

HB 2611 removes certain territorial limitations on a banking institution’s ability to offer messenger services or mobile banking facilities. The vote was 98-0 and it goes to the Senate.

HB 3055 establishes a vocational math class for high school students wishing to enter a trade. It will require education in fractions, conversion from fractions to decimals, application of measurement, reading blueprints, geometry pertaining to workforce math and other math skills needed to succeed in the trades. The vote was 97-0 and it goes to the Senate.

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